Three candidates in the Maple Ridge-Mission riding discussed tax cuts, health care and the economy, as well as issues related to homelessness at a meeting hosted by the local chamber of commerce at Meadowridge School on Thursday.
About 35 residents attended the meeting, held on a bright evening in the independent school’s windowed foyer.
Forum moderator and school headmaster Hugh Burke said the majority of questions from the audience centred on homelessness, and asked candidates to speak about that issue.
Liberal incumbent Marc Dalton said his party has spent $900 million on affordable housing in the past year, including 90 units in Maple Ridge.
He also mentioned that his party created interest-free loans, for five years, for first-time home buyers, matching down payments up to $37,500, or five per cent.
NDP candidate Bob D’Eith countered that the loans only put first-time buyers further into debt.
“It puts housing prices further out of reach. And it actually puts more money into developers’ pockets,” he added
The NDP would construct more rental and social housing units. The NDP would also get universities to start building student housing again, and institute a yearly, two-year absentee speculators tax, D’Eith said.
On homelessness, Green party candidate Peter Tam said B.C. needs a poverty reduction strategy.
“This is the only province that doesn’t have one.”
The NDP would also create a poverty reduction plan, said D’Eith, as well as a mental health and addictions ministry, and re-open facilities at Riverview to take pressure of municipalities.
Dalton said the Liberals already announced plans to reopen parts of Riverview, and mentioned the intensive case management team his party created prior to the election campaign to deal with issues related to homelessness in Maple Ridge, but was criticized for not selecting a location for a proposed $15 million supportive housing and homeless shelter.
“We also have shelters opening throughout the valley,” in Mission, Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Langley and Coquitlam, Dalton added.
On health care, the Liberals would eliminate MSP premiums, Dalton said.
“We are the only province in the country that has an MSP premium,” D’Eith countered.
The NDP would eliminate half of the premiums by January 2018, then the other half as it prioritizes health care funding.
The Greens, Tam said, would follow Ontario’s model and roll MSP premiums into personal income tax – the more income you make, the more you pay.
The Liberals would also eliminate MSP premiums, starting with half in January, then the other half when the province can afford it.
“We are making this a cut, a tax cut,” Dalton said.
“Living within your means, not off the credit card.”
On health care, D’Eith said the NDP would improve access to family doctors and medical professionals, as well as reduce pressures on emergency rooms with a new emergent care model, reduce costs of prescription drugs and invest in new hospitals.
“Right now, there’s 700,000 hundred thousand people in B.C. don’t have a family doctor.”
Dalton said the Liberals have more than doubled funding for health care since taking power 16 years ago.
On the economy, Dalton said the Liberals would drop the small business tax to 1.5 per cent.
“We are committed to four more years of not raising income taxes.”
The NDP would drop the small business tax to two per cent.
“Right now the economy is working for just a select few,” D’Eith said.
He’s been hearing that many people are working longer and harder and not getting ahead.
The NDP would aim to create new construction jobs building schools, roads, hospitals, houses and transit, as well as revitalize the forestry and mining industries to bring in more, and spark growth in the high-tech industry.
Tam said many jobs in B.C. are part-time, insecure or low-paying.
The Liberals would also target the high-tech sector.
Dalton said that, under his party, education funding is at an all-time high. However, D’Eith pointed out the Supreme Court decision last year that restored clauses deleted from the teachers contract by the Liberal government of Gordon Campbell in 2002 dealing with class size, the number of special needs students who can be in a class and the number of specialist teachers required in schools.
On local transit and transportation, the Liberals would cap bridge tolls, while the NDP would get rid of them. Both support the mayors’ 10-year plan.
On childcare, Tam said the Greens would make it free.
Dalton said nothing is free, and said the Liberals introduced all-day Kindergarten.
D’with said the NDP would provide $10 a day for childcare.